Midwesterners Gather ‘Round the Kitchen
While no two kitchen designs are exactly the same, many cater to the specific influences of the geographic area and the lifestyles of those who live there. Coastal influences are seen in homes by the shore, while urban kitchen styles are often dictated by space constraints and streamlined, minimalistic aesthetics.
The vast area of the Midwest and the differing lifestyles and architecture make pinning down a specific design style almost impossible. Yet, common elements do appear, and designers in the Midwest have learned how to take those requests and bring them to their full potential, all while delivering an individual style for the homeowner.
“There are, indeed, design characteristics that tend to reflect a geographical area,” stresses Olivia Flicker, kitchen and bath designer, Studio M Kitchen & Bath in Plymouth, MN, “and our job as designers is to understand the client’s style preferences so that such design characteristics can be featured, if desired. If a client’s project is in a coastal area, for example, we want to consider subtle nautical influences. For clients from the north or Midwest, we want to make sure that their update maintains a comfortable, warm atmosphere.”
While people may think that the Midwest leans solidly transitional, in reality, Flicker notes that clients come to her firm with a wide variety of styles and design preferences.
“We have done historic, traditional, transitional, modern, contemporary and everything in between,” she states. “Each client is unique, and each home has unique characteristics that give us the opportunity to create a space that perfectly suits our client.”
While contemporary designs and colorful painted cabinets may be trending, Midwesterners aren’t necessarily jumping on board en masse.
“In the Midwest, we are still very conservative with our designs,” notes Stephanie Nelson, associate designer, Geneva Cabinet Company in Lake Geneva, WI. She states that trends seem to hit the coasts first and then slowly make their way to the Midwest. “Most Midwesterners are still very much in love with stained cabinetry and hesitate to go with a painted cabinet or something uber contemporary,” she relays.
“New trends take a long time to get to the Midwest, so I would not say being trendy is super important to most clients,” concurs Ashleigh Schroeder, NCIDQ, CKBD, owner/designer, NEST Kitchen, Bath and Home Design in Richmond Heights, MO. She notes that, most often, clients want a space that is super functional, easy to clean and maintains the style of the home as much as possible while still getting a kitchen or bath that has all of the conveniences of new technology and design. “Most clients are looking for highly functional appliances and quartz countertops,” she adds.
“Most of our clients are not consumed about following popular trends,” offers Charles Tiber, ASID, NCIDQ, CKD, president, Studio 76 Kitchens & Baths, a division of 76 Supply Co. in Twinsburg, OH. “They do not want to go in a direction that may ‘date’ their kitchen. Rather, it is more about using good design principles while maximizing their space for functionality and beauty.” Still, he adds that it is refreshing when a client makes a bold decision and does something different, maybe with color or style, that is an artistic expression of themselves.
While Schroeder states that it takes time for the design trends on the coasts to hit the Midwest, it doesn’t mean some in the center of the country haven’t taken notice. In fact, in the past two years, she has seen a dramatic increase in the number of clients looking for transitional and contemporary spaces.
“The days of traditional kitchens and baths with heavy mouldings and dark woods have passed, and clients are now looking for clean simple lines, textured laminates and high gloss finishes. Clients are also starting to get away from the white and gray palette and are introducing more color into their homes,” Schroeder observes.
“While white and bright kitchens remain popular,” notes Flicker, “many clients are beginning to venture into two-toned kitchens that tastefully combine stained and painted finishes to add some warmth to the space.”
“Real Midwesterners are just fascinated by painted cabinets all of a sudden,” adds Nelson.
“Maintaining a home’s style is always a concern, but most clients now are leaning toward the cleaner lines of a transitional/contemporary style even in their traditional home,” reports Tiber. He adds that some design finesse is often necessary to make this work with the style of the home, but most of the time there are ways to bring in a few traditional-like elements into the design to make it work.
“For example, a wide-plank white oak raised grain wood floor could work well with a slab full-overlay painted cabinet door and waterfall countertops,” he notes. “Remembering the principles of art – contrast, balance (not necessarily symmetry) and movement – make the design pleasing.”
Function is important to any kitchen style, especially when it comes to layout flow, prep areas and storage. Lifestyle is paramount when designing a space, so designers need to know whether their clients like to cook, entertain, gather as a family or use their kitchens for myriad other tasks.
“In the Midwest, living and entertaining through all seasons must be considered. Entry spaces, drop zones and buffer spaces are important when designing a kitchen,” stresses Tiber. “Entering the home and the kitchen can present different challenges when it is 90 degrees outside versus when there are sub-
zero temperatures with the realities of snow on boots and shoes. The desired air movement through the kitchen would be very different in summer or winter, while the moderate climates of spring and fall can demand certain other expectations in design.”
Flicker notes that clients in the Midwest often request products that are durable and
can withstand the wear and tear of busy family life. “Studio M’s cabinet lines all feature a commercial-grade catalyzed finish that greatly reduces chipping and scratching,” she stresses.
The trend toward transitional and contemporary kitchens delivers not only functionality but allows for a great deal of entertaining, reports Schroeder. “Since the start of COVID-19, people are staying home and entertaining smaller groups in their homes instead of going out to larger functions,” she observes.
Tiber concurs. “The most dominant change we have seen in our area is the desire for design that fosters relationships. The kitchen has long been the gathering place in the home, but that meaning is deeper than it was before the pandemic and the distancing that came with it. The relationships that have close contact are even more important, and kitchen design can help keep them close.
“The kitchen should be inviting, should draw people in, and can create interaction, avoiding isolation,” he states. One effective way his firm is accomplishing this is through linear design. “In linear design, the work triangle is disrupted, and the focus is to have room for more bodies in the workspace while not causing bottlenecks. Multiple cooks can work, even in a smaller kitchen, and clean up can go on simultaneously.”
One way Tiber achieves a linear design is by using a large workstation sink, big enough for two, in conjunction with a clean-up sink. “Now the workstation is in the island and a smaller clean-up sink is at the window,” he explains. “A good workstation does not reduce counter space but rather expands working space by providing multiple levels for prep, cooking and serving tools directly on the workstation.
“We love to see families getting involved in cooking,” he continues. “A workstation brings people together and, as more personal, home entertaining comes back, a workstation can help create opportunities for great meals and memories with family and friends.”
While Geneva Cabinet Company is located in a resort-type area where many people are designing kitchens in their second homes, that desire to bring people together is still the same. Many homeowners come to the Lake Geneva area to escape their day-to-day work life in the city and embrace a more casual lifestyle, and that relaxing atmosphere is reflected in their living spaces, according to Nelson.
“We do a lot of open-concept kitchens that open up into the living room, complete with large windows to take in the scenery. Families want to invite their extended family and friends up to their lake homes, so having a large gathering space that’s comfortable for a crowd is a must,” she remarks. “Having enough space to fit all of their friends and family is probably more important than where they’re going to store their Tupperware.” ▪